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For Want of a Nail - Part IV: Flesh

Title: For Want of a Nail
Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: Steve/Bucky
Warnings: Angst, dystopia and some ridiculous crack as well
Rating: NC-17 for non-penetrative sexy times
Word Count: 9,579 (25,467 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the good guys would have lost.
Summary: Hydra wins the war and then the world.  Seventy years later, the Resistance has a plan to win it back.

Part I: Fire
Part II: Ice
Part III: Stone


It took another week before Steve was cleared to leave the doctor's care and both men had become rather stir crazy by that point. Because there was just no way around it, convalescence was boring and Bucky still kicked his ass at poker nine times out of ten.

Although, his annoyance at losing aside, Steve probably would have tried to stage a breakout if Bucky hadn't been there with him the whole time. His friend had always had a knack for lightening Steve’s moods when worry or bitterness threatened to overwhelm him and he needed a bit of Bucky’s old charm right now.

Sure it was a tight fit after Tony shoved another bed in with all the medical equipment, but Steve wasn’t going to let the other man out of his sight for at least a month. Not when he kept having nightmares about his best friend's broken body and what might have happened if he hadn't jumped after him. Not until Bucky stopped staring off into space when he thought the blond wasn't looking, that empty hopelessness worse than any frown.

The other man wasn't supposed to look like that, torn and bitter and so fucking lost, and Steve would have done anything to take his doubts away. He would have done anything to make it better but he could hardly sew Bucky's arm back on his body and his friend had never been one for platitudes.

Because, in truth, they had survived the fall from Zola's train only to wake up in a world ravaged by war and hatred, one that neither man recognized anymore. Things that Steve had always taken for granted – telephones, voting, even bananas – were suddenly relics of the past and he often felt like he was speaking another language when Tony was in the room. Though, to be fair, the man often was speaking another language since SHIELD's agents seemed to operate in a strange mishmash of French and English when talking amongst themselves.

While Steve and Bucky had only officially met a few operatives so far: really just Doctor Banner and Tony Stark himself, there were always people ducking in to gawk at them. Apparently Captain America was something of a hero to the Resistance and the discovery of a living breathing supersoldier had most of SHIELD afire with curiosity.

But even though the constant stream of visitors was a bit annoying, it also helped to distract the blond from everything on his mind. So instead of complaining, Steve just drew on old USO habits, shaking hands and talking about his past missions with anyone who asked.

In return, the agents granted him their stories and the more that the captain heard, the more determined he was to see Hydra fall. Because everyone in SHIELD had been hurt by Hydra somehow, friends and relatives killed or captured when they would not kneel. Sometimes there wasn’t even a reason for it other than random cruelty since Hydra allowed the worst impulses of man and monster to run free unchecked.

Faced with such sorrow, Steve could only listen and feel inadequate. Yet over time, the blond came to understand that listening helped in its own way, just as the stories of his feats gave people hope that things could change. Hope was the reason that people remembered Captain America; hope was the reason that they still cared enough to want his autograph.

A few of the agents even asked for Bucky's – the sergeant having his own fans as a living, breathing Howling Commando and their honest admiration always made him grin. Which is the only reason that Steve allowed his friend to regale their guests with every embarrassing story that he could think of, that and the way Bucky made it up to him later, throwing his good arm around Steve's neck and kissing him until he forgot his embarrassment.

The captain still couldn't believe that he was actually allowed to touch now, that he could kiss the edges of Bucky's smile like he had always wanted to. Steve was never going to get used to the way that Bucky felt against him, the other man’s lips soft and warm and welcoming.

While they hadn't progressed past kissing yet, the blond couldn't stop thinking about what it would be like. He couldn't stop wondering how two men actually had intercourse, (in his extremely limited experience it mostly seemed to involve a lot of grinding) even as he trusted Bucky to figure something out. Honestly, the curiosity was driving Steve crazy and the fact that the sniper never bothered to put a shirt on these days wasn't helping anything. Because the blond kept getting distracted by the play of muscles in his friend’s back when Tony was trying to debrief them on this century and SHIELD's files couldn't hold a candle to the feel of Bucky’s hips beneath his hands.

Not that Bucky was any less affected if the heat in his eyes was any indication, but the sniper hid it better when other people were around. He slapped a smile on his face and joked with Tony, and it felt like a revelation when Steve realized how often he had seen that exact same grin before.

That was his friend's “God I want to kiss you but I'm not allowed to” smile and the blond had seen it long before Erskine worked his magic to make Captain America. He had seen it back when he was still a skinny scrawny invalid who probably wasn't going to survive the next winter, which meant that Bucky really did love him after all.

It wasn't just lust brought on by Steve's new body; it wasn't just an attempt to make Steve happy in any way he could. Bucky really honestly loved him and this knowledge was the one thing that made his situation bearable.

Sure the Red Skull had bombed the world and the captain still felt like he should have stopped it somehow, but at least he hadn't manage to destroy everything that Steve cared about. At least there was still love and hope and friendship and even if it was stupidly optimistic, he couldn't stop himself from planning out the future they might have. Because everything would be worth it for the chance to love Bucky openly and finally have the picket fence that Steve had dreamed about.

However, SHIELD had to win this war first and the more that he learned, the more Steve hoped that Stark had some kind of master plan. Because a frontal assault wasn't going to cut it – not with the kind of power that Hydra could command – and Captain America didn't have a team anymore.

He didn't even have his sniper, not with Bucky's arm like that, and while the other man had refused to mention it again, Steve knew the thought still weighed on him. Bucky had always protected Steve, he took the job very seriously, and nothing would convince him that his friend didn't need protecting anymore. Or rather, that the captain didn't need protecting but he still needed Bucky anyway. He would always need Bucky and it had nothing to do with the other man's skill at shooting or his willingness to throw himself between Steve and danger without a second thought.

If anything, the sniper's lack of self-preservation had always terrified the blond more than any Hydra weapon and he was determined to ram some sense into Bucky's skull eventually. He couldn't lose his friend, not now, not ever, and if Bucky hadn't survived the fall, Stark would be talking to a very different man.

So while part of Steve hated the thought of going into battle without Bucky there to watch his six, the other part was glad that he would have to sit it out. Because at least his friend would be safe from further injury and Captain America would fight twice as hard with a reason to make it home again.

But Steve didn't know how to say that without sounding incredibly ungrateful and the last thing the blond wanted to do was disparage his best friend's sacrifice. So instead the captain lost at poker, he told Bucky that he loved him as often as the other man would listen and he hobbled back and forth to the bathroom once he was finally allowed to leave his bed. Steve also gave far too much blood to Doctor Banner, held the sniper's hand whenever something threatened to send him into another flashback and kissed him goodnight just because he finally could.

Bucky was still a little twitchy about showing affection in public, staying firmly on the side of friendship whenever anyone else was in the room. However, Steve could hardly blame him for his wariness even if he was determined not to share it and when they were alone, the other man was as sweet as sweet could be.

His friend had always been a charmer, but this was a Bucky that Steve knew no one else had ever seen. This Bucky smiled at Steve like the blond was his greatest treasure and he couldn't believe that his love was actually returned.

“I do love you, you know that, right?” the sniper asked while curled around Steve one evening, right arm thrown across his chest. The position was an echo of all those cold winter nights back in Brooklyn when Bucky had been the only thing keeping the blond from freezing, and Steve could definitely get used to this again. “I kind of failed at saying it the first time, but you’ve always been the best thing in my life.”

“I know, Bucky, and you’re the best in mine,” Steve replied, stroking gentle fingers through his friend’s hair. It was getting long now, the other man’s army cut growing out in a mass of silken curls. “I won't promise that we're going to survive this, but I can promise that I'm going to fight like hell to get back to you again.”

“Of course you are,” Bucky said, looking up at his captain with a hint of a smirk, and if the corners of his smile trembled slightly, Steve wasn't going to mention it. “Because I'm going to kick your ass if you let Hydra kill you when I'm not around.”

And that right there was the heart of the matter. That right there was everything that the other man refused to say and the truth of his desperation was too raw for Steve to heal with words or promises.

So he just bent his head to kiss Bucky, trying to say everything with the press of lips on skin. Because no matter how guilty Steve felt about it, he was still going to leave the sniper behind when he went to battle Hydra and he just prayed that he would come home again.

---

Two days later, Doctor Banner finally cleared the pair to leave, Tony giving them the grand tour of SHIELD Grenoble on the way to their new digs. To be honest, the base didn't look all that impressive but there was a comforting familiarity in its cracked concrete and mishmash fixtures, the sort of practical accoutrement that soldiers learned to love.

Steve and Bucky also got an official introduction to many of the agents who had visited them during their recovery, a parade of names and faces that the blond was never going to keep straight. But a few people stuck out from the others: Natasha Romanoff, the redhead just as scary as Steve remembered from when he first woke up, Phil Coulson, who might actually be their biggest fan, and François Morita, eldest grandson of Steve's old friend. However, it was the casual introduction of a cheerful brunet painter as his fellow that made Bucky sit up and take notice, the other man finally starting to believe no one was going to jump him if he held Steve's hand sometimes.

Steve actually rather liked this Frederick since the man had an artist's eye for color and they were deep in a discussion of shading techniques when Tony dragged the captain off again. Apparently such abrupt departures were normal practice since the other agent took their sudden goodbye in stride, waving farewell with a promise to show Steve his studio sometime.

From there it was laboratories and weapon caches, Tony pointing out his security measures like a little kid showing off for his parents and that thought made Steve pause awkwardly. Because in another life, this man might have been his son instead of Howard's and his very existence made everything a bit surreal. He was living proof of all the years that had passed Steve and Bucky by and the captain probably wouldn't have been so quick to believe SHIELD's story without Tony there.

But he could see echoes of his friends in the other man’s expressions; he could see Peggy's smile and Howard's endless excitement about new technology. So even without the evidence that Stark had shown them, Steve could not have doubted the truth before his eyes and he was glad that the couple had found some happiness in the midst of SHIELD's ongoing war.

Although, honestly, their son was starting to annoy him with his endless manic chatter and Steve had seen Bucky's eyes glaze over five minutes back. But the man finally seemed to be winding down a bit or at least running out of toys to show them, and it was only a few more minutes before they came to a halt again.

“Okay, Capsicle and Barnesicle, welcome to your crash pad,” Tony announced and Steve really needed to have a chat about the nicknames before this got out of hand.

Well, on second thought, that discussion could probably wait considering how the monikers made Bucky snicker behind his hand. His friend's smile had always been infectious and Steve didn't see enough of it these days so he could live with anything that made Bucky laugh.

Truthfully, the blond would be content if the other man just smiled like that every day and even the sight of their new room couldn't dim the glow he felt. Sure it was more of a concrete box than anything else, but both soldiers had slept in far worse places and he was pretty sure the mattress had been custom-made for them.

Seriously, the bed took up half the room, just enough space on either side of it for a cheap dresser, a floor lamp and a door on the far wall. However, cramped though it might be, complaining was the last thing on Steve’s mind after Bucky sat down on the mattress and let out the most pornographic moan that he had ever heard.

“Fuck, Steve. You have to try this thing,” his friend said, sprawling out on the bed with a sigh of bliss that went straight to the captain's groin.

“And that's my cue to leave,” Tony cut in before Steve could take more than one step toward the bed. A timely interruption since, in all honesty, he had completely forgotten that the other man was there. “Now, I know neither of you have gotten laid in seven decades, but try not to pull anything when you get your freaky on. We've got a busy day tomorrow and I need you both perky when we start testing your abilities.”

With this farewell, Tony pulled the door shut behind him, Steve staring after him with a slightly bemused smile on his face until another moan snapped his attention back where it belonged.

“Okay, seriously, is it really that amazing?” the blond asked, walking over to the bed where Bucky was still wriggling happily. The sniper was making the same noises that he used to make over his first cup of real coffee after a stint out in the field and Steve still found the sound completely irresistible. So really, it was only an extreme exercise in self-control that had kept him on his feet thus far, not that the other man appreciated his restraint like it deserved.

If anything, Bucky just seemed determined to make Steve lose it as he smirked up at his friend, reaching out to grab the blond by the hand.

“Why don't you come down here and find out?” Bucky said before pulling Steve down on top of him. He resisted at first since he was still wary of the other man's injuries, but Bucky was persistent and the captain had never been able to withstand that grin for long.

So he sprawled out next to his friend, his lascivious thoughts momentarily derailed when his shoulders touched the bed.

“Holy crap, this is amazing,” Steve said, stretching out on the mattress with a groan of his own. It was literally the softest thing he'd ever felt, like someone had stuffed Heaven into a sheet and made a mattress from it, and he just wanted to roll around for days.

Though maybe with a few less clothes on, Steve's half-built fantasies rushing back in force when Bucky leaned over him.

“You should have learned to trust me by now, Stevie,” the other man murmured, eyes tracing Steve's face like he wanted to burn this moment into his memory. Though it was the wonder that made the blond's heart swell to bursting, all of Bucky's smirking bravado doing little to hide the sheer joy in his gaze. “When have I ever led you wrong?”

“Oh, I can definitely think of a few times. But I can probably give you the benefit of the doubt right now,” Steve replied before wrapping his hand around Bucky's neck and pulling his friend into another kiss.

Kissing Bucky was like coming home, the other man's mouth warm and welcoming every time, and while the blond still wasn't sure what he was doing, this was definitely a good start. So Steve just focused on driving his friend insane with teeth and tongue, licking his way into Bucky's mouth and nipping at his lips. He wanted to savor every inch of him, drink him in until all he could taste was that deep smoky flavor, and he couldn't stop himself from moaning at the thought.

Or maybe it was the way that the other man's hips were grinding down against him, their cocks sliding together with every thrust. It was almost painful with the rough fabric of their pants caught between them but fixing that would have required letting Bucky go.

Instead Steve just dragged his friend down again, tangling his fingers in the other man's hair to get the angle right. Because the wet slide of lips was everything he'd ever wanted, his hips rocking up without his conscious thought. The blond didn't think he'd ever been this hard in his life, not even in that week-long stretch after the serum when he'd been caught off guard by his body suddenly demanding things that he’d never had the energy to want before.

But back then he hadn't had Bucky, muscled back taut and smooth beneath his hands. He hadn't had the rough stubble on the other man's jaw tracing a searing line against his cheek as Steve tried to tug him closer, the sniper's remaining hand working its way down his captain's chest teasingly.

Bucky had a lot more coordination than the blond was managing right now, his fingers soon tugging at the waistband of Steve's pants. There was a bit of cursing involved since the perspective was obviously different than his friend was used to but long years of practice at undoing bra straps one-handed eventually paid off. The captain couldn't even be jealous of all those women anymore when Bucky's fingers closed around his dick, sure and strong and far too talented at this.

All he could do was hold on, Steve's hands digging into the sniper's hips hard enough to bruise as he gasped against his neck. He would feel guilty about the marks later but right now Bucky was stroking his cock with intent, gun calluses catching roughly on his skin.

The other man kept the rhythm slow at first, a little hesitant until he realized that Steve was moaning at pretty much everything he did. It would have been embarrassing if Bucky didn't look so delighted by the revelation, doing his best to pull the most obscene noises out of his captain's throat. He seemed determined to find the perfect stroke, twisting his wrist a little differently each time until he finally made Steve scream.

“Oh my God, Bucky,” the blond shouted, back arching off the bed. “Oh my God, do that again.”

So Bucky did, pupils blown wide with lust as he watched Steve fall apart beneath his hand. The man was gorgeous, giving himself over to the pleasure with an unselfconscious abandon that threatened to drive the sniper mad. Because he knew that no one had ever touched his friend like this; no one else had ever seen Steve's face twisted with desire and this thought ignited something hot and possessive in his chest.

Captain America might belong to the world, but this belonged to Bucky and right now that seemed like a fair trade.

“Fuck, Stevie. Do you have any idea what you do to me?” the sniper murmured and Steve would never get tired of hearing that name on Bucky's lips. But it didn't seem right that his friend was still able to say anything when his only coherent thought was touch me more. So Steve dragged his hands down the other man’s chest, clumsy fingers working the buttons of Bucky's pants.

It seemed to take forever to get them open, the blond continually distracted by the warm press of lips against his neck. Because the sniper couldn't seem to stop touching Steve, that clever mouth sucking a line of hickeys into his friend’s skin for everyone to see.

Each possessive touch sent sparks shooting down Steve's spine and he had never realized that anything could be wired straight to his dick like that. So his fingers kept slipping on the buttons as he arched up into Bucky, wanton moans echoing off the concrete of the walls. But eventually Steve managed to find his target, Bucky's cock hot and heavy in his hand. While it threw him for a second, the feel of another man’s cock both strange and familiar, his friend’s unbridled moan was enough to make the blond persevere.

So Steve gave a cautious squeeze, the sniper's whole body jerking against him and it didn't take long for him to find a rhythm after that. Bucky liked it slow, a little rougher than his captain, and when the blond dragged his thumb across the tip, he thought that the other man might pass out.

Because his murmured endearments were fast approaching incomprehensibility, broken moans panted against Steve's neck. Bucky was kneeling over him now, catching his friend's lips in another kiss as he kept jerking on his cock, and the blond returned the favor, their hands knocking together in a filthy, sweaty mess. It was slick and awkward and perfect, Steve's free hand tangling in Bucky's hair again as they rutted on the bed, moans muffling the slap of skin on skin.

Everything was blending together: the heat and pleasure and endless litany of endearments that Bucky couldn't seem to stop; the other man's voice gone gravelly and shattered with desire, dick hot and pulsing against his palm. All it took was a few more strokes and then the sniper was jerking taut above him, head thrown back as he cried out Steve's name.

The wet gush of Bucky's come across his hand brought everything into sharp focus, Steve wringing the last drops from the other's cock as he watched his face. He wanted to remember this; he wanted to remember the way that Bucky looked, sweaty and disheveled and so fucking gorgeous when he came.

Steve was definitely going to remember the way that his friend smiled almost shyly; the fond tilt of his lips as he stared down at the blond. Although, perhaps he should have been paying more attention to the wicked glint in Bucky's eyes instead since the sniper's next stroke caught him by surprise.

A few more quick jerks took Steve to the edge and dropped him off it, his world narrowing to the heat around his cock and the pleasure crashing over him. Then he collapsed back onto the mattress, heart hammering in his chest like he'd just run a marathon and yet no jog had ever made him feel this good. Steve was actually smiling so hard that his cheeks were hurting, limbs loose and sprawling on the bed.

“That was amazing,” he muttered, pressing a sloppy kiss to the side of Bucky's cheek as the other man grinned proudly down at him. “Why the hell haven't we been doing that for years?”

“Well, you probably would have passed out halfway through back in the old days,” was the first joking reply before the sniper's smile flattened out. “Besides, even if I hadn't been too much of a coward to admit that I loved you, you've always been way out of my league. Hell, I'm still not sure what you see in me.”

“Don't worry, Bucky. As it turns out, I am a huge fan of slumming it,” Steve replied, deciding that he was in far too good a mood to tackle his friend's insecurities right now. Besides, he was tired and this bed was so very comfortable.

“Hey, punk. Don't fall asleep on me.” The captain grunted when Bucky poked him but he refused to open his eyes again and eventually his friend just wriggled free.

“Quit your griping, I ain't gonna wake up glued to you just because you were too lazy to move,” his friend retorted in answer to Steve's disgruntled grumble at the loss of his human blanket, the blond already missing Bucky's weight in his arms. “You can have your pillow back as soon as I clean the mess we made.”

The other man was true to his word, wiping off Steve's stomach with a few rough swipes of a washcloth before tossing the towel back into the bathroom to deal with another day. Then he shimmied out of his pants – something that the captain did, in fact, open his eyes for since he would never be too tired to watch that. If Bucky hadn't followed the move with a yawn of his own, the blond might have considered trying for round two right then.

But instead he just kicked off his own pants and scooted over to make room for the other man, even if that wasn't really necessary on this monstrosity of a bed. Bucky still seemed to appreciate the gesture, curling against the captain's side with a happy sigh.

He must really have been tired since he was out less than a minute later, face mashed awkwardly into Steve's collarbone. Honestly, his friend was probably going to wake up with some crazy lines on his cheek in the morning, but he looked so adorable that Steve couldn't bear to make him move. So instead the blond just wrapped an arm around Bucky's shoulders, pressing a kiss to the top of his head before drifting off to the familiar sound of snoring in his ear.

---

For once his sleep was peaceful, the recurring nightmares of Bucky falling to his death chased off by the warm skin beneath his hands. Although, nice as it was, Steve had second thoughts about the whole sleeping naked thing when Tony burst into their room the next morning at the ass crack of dawn.

“Rise and shine, soldiers. I need you down in the lab twenty minutes ago,” the man shouted, seemingly oblivious to the eyeful that Bucky flashed him when the sniper turned to glare. “Chop, chop, time’s a wasting and I don't have time to spare.”

Tony seemed content to stand there waiting until both men were dressed, his expression giving Steve flashbacks to his army training days. So the captain didn’t bother to argue about it, just reached over to poke Bucky until his eyes actually stayed open for more than a few seconds at a time. His friend had never been a morning person, any interruption before noon greeted with disgruntlement and growls as long as Steve had known him, and that hadn’t changed in this new century.

Though Bucky wasn’t too tired to grin a little smugly when Steve threw off his sheet and Tony raised one impressed eyebrow, “Damn, Barnes. You don’t mess around do you? Cap here looks like he’s been mauled.”

Steve looked down at his chest and discovered that, if anything, Tony had been understating it because he had hickeys everywhere. Truthfully, he looked like a leopard and he felt himself flushing with embarrassment. While the blond wasn’t ashamed of his relationship with Bucky, far from it, that didn’t mean he wanted everyone knowing exactly what they’d been up to last night.

Some things were supposed to be private and Steve was actually a little surprised that Bucky was so calm about this. But his friend had either finally accepted that people's beliefs had changed or his possessiveness was just stronger than his fear. Probably a little of both seeing as the sniper had always had a bit of a jealous streak where Steve was concerned. Which was stupid, really, since he had been head over heels for Bucky for as long as he could remember and no one else had ever wanted to talk to him before the serum anyway.

However, no one had ever claimed that love was rational and on further contemplation, Steve could see the appeal of leaving a mark or two. Because Bucky was his now and everyone else would have to learn to keep their damn hands off.

Including Tony, who was watching them both far too appreciatively for the captain’s taste. While he didn’t think that the other man was seriously interested, being ogled still made Steve uncomfortable and he pulled on his shirt a little faster than he might have otherwise. He was just glad that SHIELD had given them each a change of clothes on their exit from the medical facilities so that they didn't have to throw on the dirty clothes from the night before.

Next time we'll have to get naked first, Steve thought, feeling a little guilty about the laundry they were leaving on the floor. But he couldn't regret it when Bucky caught his eye, the other man's smile making his heart thump wildly, and the only thing that the captain wanted to do was go back to bed again.

“Did you manage to fuck each other stupid last night or can we get on with it?” Tony asked after the two men had stood there grinning at each other for too long. “Because I wasn't kidding about the ticking clock.”

“Yes, of course. Sorry. Whatever you need,” Steve said even as his cheeks started burning once again. He was going to have to learn how to look at Bucky without smiling like an idiot if he wanted to be able to function with any kind of normalcy, but Steve was starting to think that he would just have to live with blushing constantly.

Because it was taking all his strength to keep his lips from curving and he lost the fight when Bucky sidled up next to him.

“Shall we, then?” his friend asked, holding out his arm like he was escorting Steve to a dance. Apparently, now that Bucky had had his hand down the blond's pants, he felt the need to be a gentleman, but Steve had to admit he was a little charmed.

Bucky had always been a good date, his manners fine enough that he could have passed in high society if he'd wanted to. He actually had sometimes when Steve had been struggling to make ends meet in the winter, found himself a nice girl who wanted a bit of danger and swanned along to fancy parties in her wake. The other man would leave his date feeling like a princess even as he filled his pockets with expensive delicacies and Steve should have realized how Bucky felt long ago. Because his friend had always come straight to him with his prizes, laying everything out on the table and entertaining the blond with stories about the people he had seen.

However, Steve had been too wrapped up in his own doubts to see the obvious and he fully intended to enjoy the other man's chivalry now that it was turned on him. So Steve ignored Tony's smirk and linked his arm with Bucky's before gesturing to Stark to lead the way.

The two men walked through the halls like that, their steps falling into a familiar rhythm as they trailed after the scientist. Somehow with the sniper strutting alongside him, Steve didn't feel embarrassed of the hickeys peeking up over the edge of his shirt anymore. Instead he just felt proud that he was lucky enough to call this man his fellow and he met the surprised stares of the agents who crossed their path with a smug grin of his own.

It was Steve's “Damn right, he's mine” smile and the captain rather thought that he'd be wearing it a whole lot from now on. But, of course, there was still work to be done and his mood turned more serious when SHIELD's lab came into view.

Doctor Banner was there already, a familiar array of vials set out on the countertop along with a wide variety of equipment that Steve couldn't hope to recognize. He didn't even try, not when his only major encounter with serious medical science had involved Vita-rays and iron plating, not all these complicated computers and electricity.

However, the captain could recognize the frustration on Banner's face quite clearly and he knew that the attempts to recreate Erskine's serum weren't going well. It seemed strange that seventy years worth of scientific advancements couldn't match one man's genius, but perhaps that was the problem here.

Maybe the world had moved too fast and the answers that SHIELD sought were locked away in older technologies. Maybe the answer was Vita-rays and iron plating after all.

But Steve and Bucky weren't there to aid Banner's experiments because the doctor just nodded his head at the soldiers distractedly as Tony led them through another door in the back wall of the laboratory. It led to a large enclosed room, a training area by the looks of it, where Natasha and François were waiting with an impressive display of weaponry.

“What are we doing here?” the captain asked, letting go of Bucky's arm as he looked around the room. Something about it made him twitchy, his nerves jangling as though someone was about to attack from the shadows, or maybe that was just the narrow-eyed stare that Natasha was giving him.

“We need to test your abilities if you're going to be fighting Hydra; it wouldn't do to lose you in the first battle and warfare has changed a lot while you were sleeping the years away,” the redheaded agent answered coldly, gesturing to the weapons at her side. The woman really didn't seem to like him very much and one of these days Steve would have to find out what her problem was. Though it was possible that the agent was just worried about Tony's willingness to rest all of SHIELD's hopes on the legend of Captain America.

This was Bucky's opinion the one time that Steve had mentioned Natasha's distance and the sniper had always been better at understanding people than his captain was. Steve tried to see the best in everyone even before the serum and while that had made Captain America inspiring, it also gave him certain blind spots that his friend had never had.

So Bucky was probably right and as long as the other man wasn't concerned about Natasha's glaring, Steve would give her the benefit of the doubt. Even if the sight of the agent with a pistol made his hands itch for the comforting weight of his shield in his hands.

“If you're expecting any fancy moves from this guy, you're going to be sorely disappointed,” Bucky said, his chuckle neatly puncturing the silence before it could grow too serious. “He only had a week of basic training before they shipped him off to do his dancing act and the rest of us didn't get much more than that. Hell, my sniper training consisted of being handed a rifle by my CO and told to shoot at Krauts.”

“All the more reason to test your level,” Natasha replied and Steve hadn't thought that she could sound any less impressed by him. “I need to know what you're capable of before Morita and I can show you how to make the best use of your skills. And if you're as bad as the sergeant claims, then SHIELD will have a lot to teach you both.”

“Teach him, you mean,” Bucky said, shifting his weight beneath Natasha's calculating stare. “I'm not going to be infiltrating too many Hydra bases with my arm like this.”

“You can still shoot a gun, can't you? They’re all ready to fire so take your pick,” the agent said, gesturing at the array of weapons by her side and nothing else could have made the sniper's eyes light up like that. His fellow had always liked guns as much as he didn't like to use them without reason and firearms had only grown sleeker since the Red Skull had won.

So the other man only hesitated for a second before stepping up to the table, reaching out to heft a pistol in his hand. Steve could see the change in Bucky as soon as he picked it up, his friend’s stance changing to reveal some of his old confidence, and Steve hadn’t even realized how much he’d missed that before now. This would be good for Bucky so the captain settled back to enjoy the show, taking the earmuffs that Tony handed him as Natasha flicked a switch to bring the targets out.

Bucky's first shot went wide but before the agents could say anything disparaging, the sniper shifted his stance slightly and placed the next five bullets squarely in the target’s head.

“Not bad,” Natasha said grudgingly and Steve could have sworn that he saw the first glimmer of actual respect in her eyes. “Are you as good with other guns?”

His friend had never been one to back down from a challenge so Bucky and Natasha were soon deep in a discussion of firing techniques, the two of them working their way from static targets to ones that hardly seemed to pause as they zipped around the room.

However, as much as Steve would have liked to keep watching since he’d always found the other man incredibly attractive when showing off, he wasn’t allowed to stay on the sidelines for too long. Instead Tony and François ushered him to the west half of the room to test his skills at hand to hand. SHIELD had mats set up there for its agents to practice sparring and quite frankly, Steve was soon glad of it.

Because even though he was far stronger than François, that didn’t matter when the captain couldn’t seem to get his hands on him. The agent kept reading his moves somehow, Steve’s fists barely grazing the edge of his shirt instead of landing and while the blond was holding back somewhat for fear of hurting his sparring partner, this was just frustrating. Really, really frustrating and so eventually the captain just thought, to Hell with it, throwing his full weight into the next blow; which, of course, is when François used Steve’s own momentum to slam him into the ground.

“Holy crap. Do people really fight like that?” the blond gasped as he stared up at the ceiling, trying to force the air back into his lungs. “In our day, Hydra’s soldiers mostly just shot at us with bullets and maybe threw a few punches here or there.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll still get shot at,” Tony replied, grinning down at Steve with far too much amusement for the captain’s taste. “But Hydra’s Strike Teams and Commandos are also known for their hand to hand fighting and you can’t rely on your shield to protect you all the time.”

“Well then, I guess you better show me how you did that,” Steve said, accepting François’ offered hand to pull himself to his feet.

So for the next several hours, the agent gave the captain a crash course in a variety of styles, working Steve over until he could barely keep them straight. Because even though the other man claimed that he was only showing Steve the basics, his moves were far fancier than anything the captain had seen before. However, the serum had increased his muscle memory along with his metabolism and it rarely took more than ten repetitions before he could mimic François perfectly.

Of course, once Steve was feeling comfortable, the agents decided to swap places and Natasha quickly brought him to his knees again. The blond had no idea how she did it since by all rights he should have cleaned the floor with her, but she had a knack for painful nerve strikes and holds that no amount of strength could break.

Yet his failure just made Steve more determined and he lost any hesitation about throwing punches at a dame after a few too many kicks to the face. Although, maybe that was the lesson because the first time that he managed to fight Natasha to a standstill, the agent just grinned ferally and ordered him to go again.

Which he did and even if Steve obviously had a lot to learn, SHIELD couldn’t fault his stamina because when Tony called things to a halt a few hours later, the blond wasn't even breathing hard.

“All right, Cap. I think that's enough for today. I can't have you breaking anything,” Tony said, waving Natasha down mid-strike. The redhead didn't even stumble at the interruption, smoothly transitioning from her attack into a relaxed ready stance.

On the other side of the room, François and Bucky finished up as well, their target shooting having long since transitioned into a madcap obstacle course. But at least they'd been having fun even if it didn't seem all that practical, the two men ducking and weaving their way through bars, dummies, and flying artillery. Steve had to stop and admire the view for a moment as Bucky completed the last leg, the sniper grinning smugly back at François as he came in half an inch ahead.

“Pretty good for an old guy,” the agent laughed, patting Bucky on the shoulder in camaraderie. “Next time we'll start in on infiltration; I think you could be almost as good as me one day.”

“I may be ninety and crippled but my feet still work,” the other man retorted with a roll of his eyes and Steve just had to kiss him then. Because snarky, sarcastic Bucky was the one that he'd grown up with and it was good to see that familiar side of him again.

So the captain threw a sweaty arm across his best friend's shoulders, biting back a chuckle when Bucky wrinkled his nose disgustedly. But his annoyance quickly changed to embarrassment once Steve bent his head and planted a kiss on the other man's lips for everyone to see. It was hardly more than a peck but the sniper still blushed furiously, hand-holding and Tony's innuendo not preparing him for this. A kiss was different, a kiss was something private, and his cheeks just burned brighter when Steve did it again.

“I'm going to get you back for this,” Bucky murmured when François started laughing at them, the agent completely unfazed by the sniper's embarrassed glare.

But his revenge would have to come later because even if their physical training was done for the day, SHIELD hadn't finished with them yet. Instead, after giving them time for a quick shower, Tony dragged the two men back to the strategy room for yet another debriefing and Steve was seriously starting to get tired of hearing about Hydra's overwhelming advantages all the time. Still, the captain could see glimpses of possibility here and there and Tony clearly had the beginnings of a plan.

While it would still be difficult, dangerous and possibly suicidal, with enough time and training, they might actually be able to pull this mission off and Steve was feeling cautiously optimistic when the meeting finally broke up. Of course, by this point the blond was also starving, Tony's announcement of dinner coming as a welcome break from the mass of information swirling in his head.

When they reached the dining hall, Steve was surprised to discover most of SHIELD's agents gathered there, eating dinner in small clumps of two and three. They waved a greeting when the group entered, François and Frederick grabbing plates for Steve and Bucky while Natasha dragged Tony off to deal with some emergency.

But even though the food was more serviceable than enticing and Coulson asked for yet another autograph, the company proved enjoyable enough and Steve thought the other men might become good friends in time.

Bucky certainly seemed to be getting along with the infiltrator, the two soldiers trading stories of their more interesting missions while their fellows continued the conversation on pencil shading from the day before. It was nice to talk about something other than the war or Hydra and Steve found himself wondering if this is what life would be like once the fight was done.

Maybe this was what it felt like to be normal, just two couples enjoying a peaceful meal together without worrying about anything. So the captain couldn't be jealous of the way that Bucky was laughing at François' stories, not when the other man kept glancing over at him with such love in his eyes. Instead Steve just wrapped an arm around the sniper's waist and chuckled along with him when Frederick corrected his partner's latest wild claim with a dose of reality.

Steve still found it somewhat strange to watch the two men interact, their conversations reminding him of the young married couple who had lived upstairs from him. They had the same playful air and way of talking through shared glances, and even though the pair didn't do anything too risqué in public, their affection was obvious.

The sight awoke something warm in the captain's chest, wiping away doubts that he hadn't even known were still weighing on his mind. Because as much as he loved Bucky, it was difficult to ignore a lifetime's worth of insults and whispers and everyone knew that fairies didn't have real relationships.

Except these men proved that it was possible, that Steve wasn’t totally crazy for wanting everything with Bucky instead of a dame. He’d thought he was for the longest time since the one night that he had gathered up the courage to go to one of those bars, everyone had only seemed interested in intercourse. No one wanted to get to know each other and while that was probably as much about hiding as their real desires, it had made Steve feel like even more of a freak.

A very embarrassed freak since some of the other men didn’t even bother to leave the bar before getting busy and the blond had left without finishing his drink. While he was queer enough to find some of those men attractive, he had been too much in love with Bucky to feel comfortable with the idea of kissing someone else – not that guys had had any more interest than dames in a scrawny thing like him.

But even though he and Bucky hadn’t really talked about the future, Steve knew that this was it for both of them. This was their forever and for all the terrible things about the current century, he could not regret falling when it had granted him his deepest wish.

The four men talked for another hour, sitting around their table long after the other agents had all moved on. But eventually the conversation dwindled and once Frederick started dozing off against his fellow’s shoulder, François called it a night.

“I've got to get this layabout to bed before he falls asleep right here,” the agent told Steve and Bucky before pulling his partner to his feet with a fond grin. “The two of you should head that way pretty soon yourselves; Tony wants us training daily until we get you up to snuff and Natasha has never been one to pull her punches for anyone.”

“Yeah and I've got the bruises to prove it,” the captain replied with a laugh, tugging Bucky out of his chair as well. “I guess we'd better take your advice.”

The couples said goodnight and headed back to their rooms, though Steve got turned around a few times along the way. SHIELD's concrete walls all looked the same to him and he usually relied on Bucky for directions in unfamiliar terrain. But his fellow was dead on his feet, his injuries still wearing him down more than the blond liked to see.

So he just steered the sniper gently away from the walls before he could walk into them and eventually they managed to reach their goal unscathed. Though thankfully Bucky woke up a bit when Steve opened the door, rubbing his shoulder as he sat down on the bed.

“You'd think it wouldn't ache so much since it's not actually there,” Bucky muttered with a tired sigh before stripping off his shirt and tossing it aside.

Steve wanted to ask if he was all right, but the blond knew that treating the other man like an invalid would just make him snap his cap. So instead he simply sat down behind Bucky and ran his hands down his friend's back, easing the knots of muscle he found there.

“You seemed to be having a swell time today,” the captain said as Bucky groaned in pleasure, bending his head to give better access to Steve's hands.

Honestly, the noises that he was making were a bit distracting and Steve had almost forgotten about his question by the time the sniper answered it.

“You know me; I love a good rifle and it’s nice to know that I won’t be totally helpless if we ever get attacked. But you're the one they were really there to see.” Bucky said, fixing the blond with a self-deprecating grin. “Gotta get Captain America back in fighting shape and all.”

“Yeah right, they didn't seem too impressed with me,” Steve replied, already missing the warmth of Bucky's skin under his hands. However, he didn't have to miss it for too long because the sniper responded to his captain's words by sprawling across Steve's lap again.

“You'll grow on them. You're too stubborn for anything else,” Bucky said, smiling up at him earnestly. “You're going to be amazing and I'll be right here with you the whole way.”

The blond fell a little more in love every time the other man said something like that but before he could reply with anything too sappy, the sniper's smile turned decidedly wicked and derailed his thoughts again.

“Of course, at the moment it's just the two of us and I can think of a few ways to put your skills to better use,” Bucky continued, Steve's breath hitching at the heat in his eyes. So he met his fellow halfway when Bucky leaned in for a kiss because this was a plan that the captain agreed with wholeheartedly.

---

Their days fell into a rhythm after that: training in the mornings, strategizing in the afternoons and socializing in the evenings when the other agents were available. It wasn't every night since SHIELD was still running missions, but it was nice to have friends again and even Natasha warmed up to them eventually. Only a little bit, but considering where the redhead started, Steve would take what he could get.

So while it was slightly insulting that Natasha seemed to like everyone else better – she and Frederick were actually kind of scary when they started trading puns – the captain could wait until he earned her trust. Besides, her wariness didn’t stop the agent from being a fantastic teacher and he got an actual smile the first time that he managed to take her down.

“I guess you’re not completely hopeless,” Natasha told Steve when he let her up again, admittedly a grudging compliment but still the nicest thing that she’d said to him in weeks.

Steve definitely felt like he was getting better since he actually managed to hit the other agents now and the captain didn’t think that SHIELD would wait too much longer before launching their final strike. While Banner still hadn’t managed to create a viable version of Erskine’s serum, Tony was starting to get impatient and there were whispers amongst the Underground that Hydra was planning something big.

However, until Captain America was called back into action, Steve planned to enjoy this small respite as long as he could. Even if the blond almost wished that he was back on the battlefield when he sat down at their usual table one evening and Frederick greeted him with an entirely unexpected train of thought.

“Steve! James here was just telling us about your questions and we’d be happy to help you out,” the artist said cheerfully. “The French were the masters of romance after all and let me tell you, François lives up to that. He can do this thing with his tongue… well, let’s just say that I’d be happy to draw you a diagram if you want to make your guy very, very lucky one of these days.”

“Bucky, what is he talking about?” Steve asked, eyes wide and startled in his face. While people in the future were more open about their relationships than the blond was used to, the other men had never said anything like this before.

However, the sniper didn’t seem surprised by Frederick’s monologue when Steve glanced at him, Bucky just smirking cheerfully as he replied. “I told you I’d get you back, Stevie, and I know you’re curious. Two birds with one stone and all that.”

It took Steve a minute to remember what the sniper was talking about and when he did, he wanted to protest that that was weeks ago. Hell, these days Bucky was the one kissing him in public, but his friend had always been the type to serve his vengeance cold. The other man never forgot anything and he was quite happy to take a month-old slight out of someone else’s hide as many bullies had learned to their regret.

So Steve just accepted his fate with a sigh because the sniper was right, he was still curious and if he backed out now, Bucky would just do something else next time. Besides, even though the other man had never complained about his inexperience, the blond wouldn’t mind a few tips on his technique.

“All right, I’ll leave you boys to it then,” his fellow said, patting Steve on the shoulder as he stood up again. “Our dear captain will be less embarrassed if I’m not around to hear this and Natasha promised to show me that new sniper rifle she picked up last week.”

Bucky pressed a quick kiss to Steve’s lips before abandoning him to Frederick and François’ expertise and while the blond hadn’t actually expected him to leave, it was probably better this way. Because if Bucky had been there, Steve would have felt awkward about blurting out every stupid question that had ever crossed his mind, and if he was going to do this, he might as well do it properly. Even if it was incredibly embarrassing to discover that Frederick hadn’t been joking about the diagrams and Steve was pretty sure that he would never be able to look the other man in the eye again without blushing furiously.

By the time they finished with the lesson (a brief overview of the basics according to François and wasn’t that just a terrifying thought), Steve’s head was full to bursting and his face was redder than it had ever been before. But all the embarrassment was worth it the next time that he and Bucky fell into bed together and his lover screamed like that.

In fact, Steve might seriously have to consider going back for the expert lesson if the war decided to leave them alone long enough.


Part V: Metal